Mariners need: first base

 

When Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto set out to reshape the club’s roster, the prevailing thought was that the team needed to address their starting pitching, bullpen, catching depth, outfield defense, and fringe depth. Prospect Insider Executive Editor Jason A. Churchill first discussed these areas of need in late October. Since then, Dipoto has aggressively addressed everything that Jason mentioned through a series of transactions that’s seen 30 players change teams. All-in-all, the Mariners have netted 17 new players.

That doesn’t mean that Seattle is ready to field a contender. There’s still more work to do with the starting rotation and the bullpen, especially after the team was unable to retain the services of free agent starter Hisashi Iwakuma.

Another reason that the Mariners are far from ready is the fact that Dipoto created a new hole at first base while making his multitude of moves. The departures of Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison leave Jesus Montero and the newly acquired Andy Wilkins as the top candidates to take over the position.

Considering that it’s only the first Monday in December and the Winter Meetings only started today, Mariner fans shouldn’t be alarmed. I suspect that Dipoto desired to make a change from the onset of the off-season and moving Trumbo and Morrison was part of a big picture plan to upgrade first base and other areas on the 40-man roster.

Since most observers don’t view Montero and Wilkins as the answer, let’s look at potential options available to Seattle, via trade or free agency. I’m sure other names will crop up in the rumor mill. It’s not my intent to predict the next Mariners first baseman. I’m just presenting some ideas. Some are more far-fetched than others. Let’s start with a couple of free agents.

Mike Napoli
The 34-year-old could be the kind of buy-low players that Dipoto has been attracted to since taking over. Napoli’s 2015 slash against right-handed pitching doesn’t look great. But, his.243/.340/.464 career slash against righties demonstrates that he still can contribute at the plate.

The former catcher-turned-first baseman has also done well from a defensive perspective by averaging over six defensive runs saved (DRS) during the last three seasons. Another plus – a very minor one – is that he could serve as an emergency catcher, although he hasn’t donned the “tools of ignorance” since 2012.

Steve Pearce
His career slash is .247/.325/.431, which hovers near league-average and he’s a versatile player who has played first, second and third base, plus both corner outfield spots. Since his debut in 2007, he’s totaled 10 DRS while manning first base. Like Napoli, he’d be a low-risk, low-cost signing.

I’ve had several people ask me about former Colorado Rockie Justin Morneau. He poses a much higher risk due to his injury history. In 2015, he once again had concussion and neck problems and has averaged just 112 games played since 2012. Plus, his recent offensive renaissance is probably fueled by playing in Coors Field.

Trades
It’s hard to predict deals between teams because it takes at least two parties who have needs that blend in a way to make a trade beneficial to all involved. It also comes down to the willingness of clubs to part ways with the necessary assets to get their player(s). The law of supply and demand definitely applies to the trade market.

With that in mind, I selected a few players who could be trade targets. Most of them cost more than the Mariners appear to be willing or able to pay, especially if the player doesn’t have multiple years of team control remaining.

Adam Lind – Milwaukee Brewers
The 32-year-old would be a significant offensive upgrade for Seattle. He’s posted a superb .293/.354/.509 slash against right-handed pitching during his career. He is under contract for one more year before he enters free agency and will make a relatively reasonable $8 million next year. More than likely, he’s still with the team because Milwaukee because they haven’t received an acceptable offer from potential buyers.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently speculated that the Cleveland Indians were able to get southpaw Rob Kaminsky – who was a 2013 first-round draft choice – from the St. Louis Cardinals at last season’s trade deadline and that Brewers management could be seeking a similar return.

As Rosenthal pointed out, there’s one significant difference between Lind and Moss situations. The Brewers’ first baseman is a free agent after next season, while the Cardinals got a season and a half of Moss. More team control leads to getting more value in return during a trade. This concept applies to all of the players I’m about to mention.

Clint Robinson – Washington Nationals
A late bloomer as a 30-year-old rookie last season, the left-handed hitter had an impressive .272/.358/.424 slash during 352 plate appearances and has been a average defender at first base. Granted, it’s a small sample size and whether the Nationals would be willing to part with Robinson is questionable, especially with the injury history of starting first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Travis Shaw – Boston Red Sox
The 25-year-old’s .270/.327/.487 slash and 13 home runs in just 248 plate appearances during his rookie season would make him attractive if the Red Sox were to make the left-handed hitter available. It’s possible that Boston would part with Shaw if they’re truly committed to Hanley Ramirez at first base. That remains to be seen since Ramirez has never played first base at any professional level and is coming off a disappointing 2015 season.

Justin Bour – Miami Marlins
The 27-year-old performed superbly during his first full season in the majors and even finished a distant fifth in Rookie of the Year voting to the runaway winner – Chicago’s Kris Bryant. Bour’s .262/.321/.479 and 23 home runs in 446 plate appearances would make the cost of acquiring the left-handed hitter very prohibitive. One mark against him is that his defensive metrics weren’t very favorable – he registered -7 DRS last year. In fairness, a partial season of defensive metrics doesn’t provide a large enough sample size to pass judgement.

Chris Colabello – Toronto Blue Jays
If Toronto opted to move Edwin Encarnacion to first base on a full-time basis, the 32-year-old late bloomer could be considered excess since the team already has former Mariner Justin Smoak to serve as a back-up. The right-handed hitter posted a .265/.323/.438 career slash and has some pop in his bat. Like Bour, Colabello’s -6 DRS during 644.1 innings at first base isn’t reliable due to the small sample size.

Wil Myers – San Diego Padres
It may be a surprise to some that the former American League Rookie of the Year only turns 25-years-old in three days. It may also surprise some that I;ve mentioned Myers as a first base option since he’s only started 24 major league games at the position. Based on his athleticism, the former catcher and outfielder should easily adapt to first base. This is an interesting idea, but it looks like San Diego came up with it first and may opt to keep Myers to be their first baseman, especially after trading away Yonder Alonso.

Lucas Duda – New York Mets
The 29-year-old has excellent left-handed power and good on-base ability for a player who averaged 136 strikeouts over the last two years. Duda will likely earn in the neighborhood of $6.7 million in arbitration and is a free agent after the 2017 season. Despite his disastrous throwing error in the World Series, he’s a good defender. If the Mets opted to move team captain David Wright – who has spinal stenosis – from third base to first, Duda would become expendable. New York may eventually move Wright to first, but there’s no indication that it’ll happen in 2016.

Davis effect
If a team that already has a first baseman were to sign free agent first baseman Chris Davis, a new partner could appear for Dipoto. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, and Toronto are interested in the power-hitting Davis.

Signing Davis would make Colabello available. The Cardinals would likely trade Matt Adams if they inked Davis. The arbitration-eligible Adams is projected to earn $1.5 million according to MLB Trade Rumors and a free agent after the 2018 season. The Red Sox would definitely have an excess at first base if they signed Davis to play there. Whether they would they be more inclined to trade Ramirez or Shaw is unknown.

Multi-team mystery
Since the Mariners have limited trade assets to use to get a first baseman – or starting pitching – Dipoto could turn to a multi-team deal to make a move. That’s how former general Jack Zduriencik was able to flip Nick Franklin for Austin Jackson in 2014 that involved David Price moving from Tampa Bay to Detroit.

Dipoto has used the multi-team deal while with the Los Angeles Angels. In December 2013, he made a three-way trade with the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks that netted the Angels Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, for Mark Trumbo and A.J. Schugel. These deals are complicated and can fall apart at any times.

The trade option would likely net a better player, but the Mariners are planning to contend in 2016. So, they may be reluctant to part with major league talent and they don’t have a much to offer in the form of high-level prospects.

Unless Seattle is willing to take on a bad contract or under-performing player – like Hanley Ramirez – it’s tough for me to envision how the Mariners could pick up one of the above players or someone similar in talent and team control.

That’s why Napoli and Pearce intrigue me the most. Both would be low-cost alternatives who would help the team with on the field and at the plate.

 

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